The story of the World’s Largest Hand-Dug Well began in the 1880’s when both the Santa Fe and Rock Island Railroads were laying tracks across the plains of Kansas and needed a reliable water source. In 1887, the city granted a franchise for a water works system to cost approximately $45,000, a huge sum of money in those days. The well served as a source of water for the city until 1932.
Construction of the well was a masterpiece of pioneer engineering. Workers were engaged at sun-up and paid at sun-down, fifty cents to a dollar a day. Crews of 12 to 15 farmers, cowboys, and transients worked using shovels, picks, half barrels, pulleys and ropes. The stone used for the well casing was brought in wagons from the Medicine River 12 miles south of Greensburg, over roads that were little better than cattle trails. Dirt from the well was hauled away by the same wagons which had slatted beds. By opening the slats and dumping the dirt in low spots, streets and roads to the quarry were leveled.
A wide shaft was cribbed and braced every 12 feet with rough two by twelve inch planks that reached from wall to wall in a wagon wheel type support as the digging progressed. This was done for safety of the workers as they shoveled soil into barrels and hoisted the barrels to the surface. The braces were sawed off after the stones were fitted around them. When the desired depth was achieved, numerous lengths of perforated pipe were driven horizontally at the bottom of the wall into the water bearing gravel. This served to increase the flow of water into the well basin.
When the well was completed in 1888, it was 109 feet deep and 32 feet in diameter. The well was covered and opened as a historic attraction in 1937.
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